Focusing on Florida Art

Florida Press Club 2015 First place winner, Art News.

Originally published by Florida Budget Travel, April 2015. By Mary Ann DeSantis. Photos courtesy of the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art.

The sunlight streams across the 50-foot high entrance to the new Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, seemingly putting a spotlight on James F. Hutchinson’s Everglades Panorama, an acrylic on canvas that almost spans the width of the foyer. The painting is a testament to Florida’s natural beauty and is a fitting way to start your journey through the Daytona Beach museum dedicated entirely to Florida art.

Open only since early February, the museum houses the art collection of Cici and Hyatt Brown, who began collecting paintings in 1997. The couple’s first acquisition — Gates of the City, St. Augustine, 1839 by Henry Chaplin — is predominantly displayed near the permanent gallery’s entrance. The Browns, along with buyers they later hired, put together a collection of paintings showcasing Florida’s natural beauty along with its colorful past. As their collection grew to more than 2,600 paintings, the Browns began thinking about sharing their art with the public. They donated $13 million for museum construction on wooded property donated by the city near the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts & Sciences, which owns and operates the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art.

Brown Museum of Art

Everglades Panorama by James Hutchinson is the focal point in the foyer of the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum.

The 26,000 square foot building near the new Nova Road entrance to both museums reflects the rustic style of Florida cracker homes. When the museum opened, the Browns told reporters that the museum looked just as they had pictured it — a place that said ‘old Florida.’  At the same time, the building is an elegant and modern museum with state-of-the-art technologies to showcase and protect paintings that span nearly 200 years of Florida history from the 1800s to the new millennium.

Just over 400 paintings are currently on display in the permanent gallery and six changing galleries. The other paintings are waiting for their turn as the collections will be rotated regularly.

“It will take 10 years to rotate through the full collection,” said Jenelle Codianne, director of marketing and public relations MOAS. “Visitors will see different paintings when they return.”

A single visit to the museum, though, is hardly enough time to enjoy and learn about all the works. Detailed placards gave each painting its own story, revealing not only details about the artists but also  how they were inspired by some element — whether it be bad weather or a bucolic scene. And every one of the paintings has a story, according to Hyatt, chairman of the board for insurance brokerage Brown & Brown Inc. and a former Florida Speaker of the House.

A Daytona Beach native, Hyatt chose many of the paintings because the scenes were of things he remembered growing up. When the Browns selected the themes for the exhibits in the changing galleries, there was no question about which one to include first

“We thought that it was important to have the local community, Volusia County, as a theme in the first exhibition,” said Cici.

The paintings in the permanent gallery include many of the Browns’ favorites.

“They are what we love, and a lot of them are important American artists,” explains Cici. “The permanent gallery gives an overview of the whole collection: chronologically, thematically and stylistically.”

Florida artists were not the only ones inspired by Florida’s natural beauty. John James Audubon, Thomas Hart Benton, and N.C. Wyeth are among the artists who traveled here to paint. Russian painter David D. Burliuk escaped his homeland’s 1917 revolution and settled near Sarasota. And several painters who studied with France’s Claude Monet brought their own impressionistic touches to Florida.  All are featured in the current exhibitions at the Brown Museum.

Although works by well-known artists are indeed an impressive part of the Brown’s collection, so are the paintings by lesser known artists who captured Florida’s natural environments in scenes that rarely exist today.

Lucky for art lovers, the Browns continue to collect. In one final didactic placard, Cici Brown states, “The end of this expedition is not in sight.”


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